Zhang Yimou’s censored film “One Second” apparently now finds itself in the Chinese government’s good books: it has been given pride of place as the opener at the government-run Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival.
The film was initially set to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2019. But its treatment of the still sensitive Cultural revolution period is believed to have been its undoing. It was abruptly pulled from the festival due to “technical reasons,” a common euphemism for censorship, in one of the highest profile cases of Chinese state intervention seen abroad in recent years.
Now, after apparent reshoots and, at long last, government approvals for a Nov. 27 commercial theatrical release, it is set to debut at the festival in Xiamen city on Nov. 25.
Zhang’s premiere likely seeks to add glitz and a bit of legitimacy to the Roosters, which critics have historically scoffed at as a propagandistic affair of little relevance outside of China, and focused more on political bona fides than artistic merit.
The 33rd iteration of the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival and its accompanying Golden Rooster Award ceremony will run from Nov. 25 to 28. It seeks to rival the Taipei-based Golden Horse Awards, which have historically been the most prestigious awards issued to Chinese language cinema.
The Taipei event had angered Chinese authorities in 2018 by issuing a prize to a pro-Taiwan independence filmmaker who expressed her views on stage during an acceptance speech, causing retaliation from China.
Last year, Beijing scheduled its Golden Rooster Awards for the same day as the Golden Horse ceremony and banned all mainland industry players from attending. It also announced that the Golden Rooster festival will now take place annually instead of bi-annually, as it had been since 2005, and gave the event a permanent home in the coastal Xiamen, which lies just half hour ferry’s ride away from Taiwan’s Kinmen island.
The festival portion of the mainland event is broken into two sections, with one showcasing around 20 local mainland productions and the other exhibiting around 40 international films, including ones from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
Founded in 1981, the Golden Rooster Awards honor films “that have been reviewed and approved by the National Film Bureau” — that is, passed official Chinese censorship — between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020 according to the official Xinhua news agency. It is sponsored by the China Film Association and China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, and operates “with the approval of the Central Propaganda Bureau,” the agency added.
This year, prizes will be given out across 18 categories. The youth drama “Better Days” is the most nominated film, with 11 nods. Volleyball drama “Leap” and crime thriller “Sheep Without a Shepherd,” a remake of the 2013 Indian film “Drishyam,” come in second with eight nominations apiece.
(Although “Leap” was scheduled to premiere in January, it didn’t end up hitting cinemas until Sept. 25 due to COVID-19 theater closures, and is likely the reason why this year the event specify that titles approved but not necessarily screened within the year-long time frame are eligible for prizes.)
The five nominees for best narrative feature film include three directed by helmers from outside the mainland. They include: “Leap”, from Hong Kong’s Peter Chan; Hong Kong director Derek Tsang’s youth drama “Better Days”; “Sheep Without a Shepherd” from Malaysia-born director Sam Quah; Mongolian language film “Chaogtu with Sarula,” which won the best artistic contribution award at the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival last year; “Spring Tide,” a family drama from female helmer Yang Lina; and — no surprise — propagandistic National Day film “My People, My Country,” created as a tribute to the ruling Communist Party.
There are six nominees for best director: all the helmers of the five above titles, plus the duo Shen Zhou and Liu Lu for their film “Almost a Comedy, which grossed just $28 million.
Best actor nominees include TFBoy boy band idol Jackson Yee (“Better Days”), Da Peng (in rom-com “My Dear Liar”), Xiao Yang (“Sheep Without a Shepherd”), Wu Yuhan (“Almost A Comedy”), and Huang Xiaoming (“The Bravest”).
Best actress nominees include Zhou Dongyu (“Better Days”), Tan Zhuo (“Sheep Without a Shepherd”), Ren Suxi (“Almost a Comedy”), Liu Yan (“My Dear Liar”), and Zhu Xijuan (“The Empty Nest”).
There are only four nominees for best screenplay, a category that encompasses both original and adapted works. They are the writers of “Sheep Without a Shepherd,” “Leap,” “Better Days,” and “Almost a Comedy.”